Best Whiskey for an Old Fashioned: 6 Best Bourbons & Ryes Under $30 for the Classic Cocktail

by Jim Casey
best-whiskey-for-an-old-fashioned-6-best-bourbons-ryes-under-30-for-the-classic-cocktail
photo by Outsider

While the Old Fashioned is regarded as one of the “classic” cocktails, it still features plenty of palatable twists and turns. And that’s part of the reason the Old Fashioned remains so popular today, more than 100 years after the libation was first imbibed. Bourbon or rye? Sugar cube or simple syrup? Orange peel or cherry (or both)? The Old Fashioned can be massaged to fit your personal tasting profile while still remaining true to form.

An old Navy man once told me that an Old Fashioned should feature a bourbon/rye that you enjoy drinking neat . . . but should only cost around $30 a bottle. Personally, I think that’s a pragmatic criterion. And who’s gonna argue with an old Navy man?

So, today we’re going to focus on six of our favorite whiskeys (3 bourbons and 3 ryes) that meet the aforementioned requirements. And are readily available at most liquor stores.


Old Fashioned With Bourbon

Bourbon, among other requirements, uses a mash bill of at least 51 percent corn and is typically sweeter on the palate than rye.

1. Elijah Craig Small Batch

  • Proof: 94
  • Price: $30
  • Why We Love It: With hints of caramel and light oak, Elijah Craig is such a well-balanced option for an Old Fashioned. Not too sweet, not too spicy. If you want your cocktail to veer either direction, simply add a touch more simple syrup (sweet) or bitters (spicy), respectively. But we love Elijah because it’s so even-keeled as the all-important base ingredient, while also remaining affordable and available.

2. Maker’s Mark Kentucky Straight Bourbon

  • Proof: 90
  • Price: $26
  • Why We Love It: For the wheat-loving bourbon crowd, Maker’s Mark, with its notes of vanilla, cinnamon, and bread, (16% wheat mash bill) is our go-to choice for an Old Fashioned. Want your Old Fashioned more “wheaty”? Larceny Small Batch (20% wheat mash bill) is another stellar option at $29.

3. Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

best-whiskey-for-an-old-fashioned-6-best-bourbons-ryes-under-30-for-the-classic-cocktail
  • Proof: 90
  • Price: $25
  • Why We Love It: This is the perfect tweener choice for fans of both bourbon and rye Old Fashioneds. Make no mistake, Buffalo Trace is a bourbon, but its suspected mash bill is probably around 10 percent rye. So your Old Fashioned with Buffalo Trace is gonna have hints of toffee, cinnamon, and a little spice (from the rye).

Old Fashioned With Rye

Rye whiskey uses a mash bill of at least 51 percent rye grain and is typically spicier on the palate than bourbon.

1. Old Forester Rye

best-whiskey-for-an-old-fashioned-6-best-bourbons-ryes-under-30-for-the-classic-cocktail
  • Proof: 100
  • Price: $26
  • Why We Love It: Old Forester Rye is right in our rye-loving wheelhouse, with 65% rye in its mash bill. It’s not the spicy king among the ryes, but it’s perfect for an Old Fashioned because you get a belt of peppercorn, cinnamon, and sassafras. It sounds palatably complicated but works perfectly in an Old Fashioned. Trust us.

2. Sazerac Rye

  • Proof: 90
  • Price: $30
  • Why We Love It: While it’s getting harder to find Sazerac Rye, aka Baby Saz, for $30, it’s still worth the few extra bucks if you like your Old Fashioned with notes of honey, cinnamon, and spicy peppermint. Although Sazerac Rye has an undisclosed mash bill, it’s believed to feature 51% rye. That’s the starting point to be considered a rye whiskey. If you’re looking to make the move from bourbon to rye in your Old Fashioneds, Sazerac is a great place to start.

3. Rittenhouse Bonded Rye

  • Proof: 100
  • Price: $28
  • Why We Love It: Rittenhouse Bonded Rye is a touchstone rye—a perennial favorite among bartenders for Old Fashioneds and Manhattans because it’s affordable, respected, and tasty. While there aren’t a lot of affordable bonded ryes on the market (Old Overholt Bonded also comes to mind), Rittenhouse will leave your Old Fashioned with hints of fruit, oak, and spicy toffee. It’s also a fine sipper served neat if you’re looking for a budget-friendly introduction into rye.
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